In Which the Blogger Approximates Another Restaurant Favorite at Home…

This pasta dish is both light and filling

This pasta dish is both light and filling

One of my family’s favorite dishes at the California Pizza Kitchen is a very simple plate of pasta: fusilli with sun-dried tomatoes and broccoli.  It was a very simple, rustic dish with al dente pasta drizzled with tomato-infused oil, sweet, chewy, and slightly salty slivers of sun-dried tomato scattered throughout the dish with broccoli florets and diced, fresh tomato; it was always very, very good.  By gum, it was so good on its own that we always said “no” whenever the server asked if we wanted to add prawns or chicken to it.  

Every single time we went to CPK, we would invariably order the fusilli along with the Thai Crunch Salad and the wild mushroom pizza with refillable raspberry iced teas all around.  Alas, because CPK recently revamped its menu, both the fusilli and the wild mushroom pizza are gone and nowhere to be found.

I am of the opinion that desperate times call for drastic measures.  When I celebrated my birthday recently, it was the dish I craved for – but I also knew that there was no was I was going to get it unless I made it myself.  This weekend, a few days after my birthday, I went and actually made it at home.

This recipe is actually one of those “make do with what you’ve got” sorts.  In this case, I couldn’t find any sliced sun-dried tomatoes in oil, so I used the next best thing: sun-dried tomato pesto which, really, is quite tasty and keeps everything good, moist, and flavorful.  I was lucky to find fresh broccoli at the supermarket and amped it all up with the addition of oyster mushrooms which brought a nice, almost meaty flavor to the dish.  It’s the sort of thing that goes over well with both vegetarians and carnivores – and, really: I wouldn’t want to eat anything else save for a big bowl of this on an unusually hot evening.

Fusilli with Tomatoes and Broccoli

  • 450 grams fusilli or fusilli tricolore, prepared according to package instructions
  • 1-1/2 cups sun-dried tomato pesto
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup oyster mushrooms, shredded
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced

Cook the pasta based on the package instructions, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking water; drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, pour in the oil.  When it begins to sizzle, add the chopped onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook till the edges have browned a little.  Add the mushrooms and broccoli and cook for about a minute or until the mushrooms have softened and the broccoli is crisp-tender.  Pour in the reserved pasta water and pesto and mix; bring to a boil and remove from the heat.

Immediately toss in the pasta and mix well.  Transfer to a serving dish and top with the diced tomato and grated cheese.

Serves 6.

In Which There is a Bowl of Potato Noodle Soup…

There are potatoes in there...

There are potatoes in there…

The use of potatoes and potato starch/flour to make noodles is nothing new; in fact, it’s virtually a given in many cuisines throughout the world.  In Italy, you have the gorgeously chewy and moreish bits between dumping and pasta known as gnocchi.  Potatoes are prepared in a similar fashion in much of Eastern Europe, Germany, and Luxembourg; spuds turned into chewy little pasta rolls are referred to as knodel in that part of the world.  In both Baden and Alsace both near the Franco-German border, there is a dish called Badische Schupfnudeln where leftover mashed potatoes are mixed with flour and egg yolks to make thick, spaetzle-like noodles which are later fried up with plenty of butter and topped with fresh-ground pepper and a touch of salt.

Since potatoes were but recently (read: less than 300 years or so ago) introduced to Asia, their use in noodle making is not as common as it is in the West.  The Koreans, however, have hit upon the notion of using potatoes to make instant ramen/ramyeun noodles.

Popular noodle brand Nongshim has an instant version of what is known as gamjatang.  This popular winter stew features pork vertebrae (the spine) and chunked-up potatoes simmered down in a richly flavored broth loaded with chilies, spring onions, and roasted sesame seeds.  The dish gets its name from the word gamja which means “potato” in Hanggul.  It is something like the Japanese tonkotsu (a rich, sticky-textured broth made by simmering down pork bones and cartilage), only spicier and more warming.

The instant version is referred to as gamjatang-myeun as it features potato starch noodles in lieu of both regular white-flour noodles and the potatoes traditionally cooked along with the pork spine and there are a few potato bits in the packet of dehydrated vegetables that comes with the package.  These noodles are significantly bouncier and springier as far as the texture is concerned; these are quite a bit firmer to the bite, chewier, and their savory flavor goes well with the rather spicy broth.

Budae jjigae, anyone?

Budae jjigae, anyone?

The instant version is quite good on its own, but I love embellishing it with a poached egg, slivers of leftover pork roast or even sliced-up Spam to make a version of the Korean deli-meat stew budae jjigae.  It makes for an unusual and rather heavy breakfast, but also works a treat to fill up bellies on cold, rainy evenings.

In Which This Year’s Birthday Post is a Day Late…

This year's cake is a present from my brother...

This year’s cake is a present from my brother…

One of the biggest things to get a foodie/home cook/chowhound down is getting sick enough so as to prevent doing anything with food, be it the eating or cooking of it.  And, alas, such a disaster happened to me recently.

It has been a difficult month: a lot of deadlines at work, torrential downpours in the afternoons have extended my commute from an hour and a half to three hours, projects slaved over – only to learn at the last minute that clients have backed out or have decided not to push through.  And, to crown it all, I’ve been down with the flu for the past week.

But such is life: you just have to roll with the punches sometimes.  And, even if you can’t bake it yourself, there’s always room for cake.

And for that and numerous other things, I am very grateful.

In Which There is a Bowl of Congee from a Street Food Legend…

30 years of good eats

30 years of good eats

When I was a kid of about ten or eleven and the family made the annual nighttime pilgrimage to Paranaque’s Manila Memorial Park to commemorate All Saints’ Day (a.k.a.: the Filipino counterpart of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, a day when people head to cemeteries throughout the country to pay their respects to the dead), we would usually stop by a small lugawan (an eatery specializing in lugaw – congee/savory porridge) near the entrance of BF Homes called Good Ah.

Good Ah first opened its doors in 1983 serving up simple yet substantial fare for weary commuters and those strapped for cash between one payday and the next.  It is also, interestingly enough, one of the first local eatery chains to offer 24-hour service for its customers.  In the mid-1980s, it became so popular that it was immortalized in the comedy film Goodah top-billed by local comedy trio Tito, Vic, & Joey and veteran comic Panchito.

As stated previously, its primary stock in trade happens to be the local take on road food.  ‘Silogs (garlic fried rice, fried eggs, and one’s choice of protein) and two kinds of congee have always been on the menu.  Their arroz caldo (chicken congee with chicken chunks and slivered ginger) is classic, but Good Ah’s biggest draw has always been its goto.  

A steaming bowl of goodness

A steaming bowl of goodness

Goto is a savory rice porridge studded throughout with strips of soft, chewy beef tripe (goto in the vernacular).  The rice is cooked until soft and creamy in a mix of pork and chicken broth and the pre-cooked (pressure cooked in many cases) tripe stirred in towards the end of the cooking process.  Prior to serving, the congee is further embellished with bashed-up chicharon (pork crackling/scratchings), minced chives, and a generous spoonful of crunchy toasted garlic.

Good Ah’s goto is fairly standard in the sense that it has all of the above-mentioned comments.  However, it also has the added attraction of a halved hard-boiled egg in the mix.  On its own, the porridge is deliciously savory: not gamy at all, mildly beefy, and rich enough even for palates that aren’t that much into beef.  It is lovely enough on its own, but I am of the opinion that a light squeeze of calamansi juice, a sprinkle of patis (fish sauce / nam pla), and a moderate dash of pepper make it the perfect thing to eat during the sort of cold, rainy afternoons we’ve been having of late.

In Which the Blogger Finally Gets Her Picadillo Recipe Right…

One savory supper dish

One savory supper dish

Picadillo, a Spanish-inspired stew, has long been popular as a main dish here in the Philippines. It is a rich, thick mix of ground meat, native sausage (the savory de recado rather than the sweetish hamonado fried up for many local breakfasts), potatoes, & carrots in a well-seasoned tomato sauce. It is a heavenly sort of hash best served ladled over a generous mound of steaming rice on a cold, stormy night – another of which we are experiencing tonight.

My mother is a regular champ at making picadillo. Hers is an incredibly flavorful sort made hearty by the combination of beef & pork. It was the sort of dish I despaired of getting right until, finally, trial & error finally paid off.

My version of the dish features just pork augmented by the addition of smoked ham or turkey. The addition of this bit of smokiness keeps the richness in check & has the additional virtue of making the dish meatier, more substantial. Also, I add a bit of sweet paprika (pimenton dulce) along with the bay leaf traditionally used to flavor the dish, as well as a handful of raisins to add a hint of sweetness to balance the sharpness of the tomato in the dish.

Here in the Philippines, picadillo is best served over rice, though some families of Spanish descent also use it to fill warmed rolls. I daresay it would also work a treat spooned generously over steaming-hot baked potatoes or even a mound of creamy mash.


  • 1/2 kilo lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup smoked ham or turkey, coarsely chopped
  • 1 chorizo de Bilbao or frankfurter, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled & diced
  • 1 large potato, peeled & diced
  • 1 eggplant, peeled & diced (Note: use an Asian eggplant; it’s less bitter)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 chicken or pork bouillon cubes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons raisins

Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter & oil. When the butter has melted, add the onion & cook till softened. Add the garlic; cook till browned & fragrant. Add one of the bouillon cubes, crushing it as you mix it with the aromatics. Put in all the vegetables, & cook till tender. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool for a while.

In the same saucepan, cook the ham for a couple of minutes with the remaining bouillon cube, then add the pork and about 1/2 tablespoon of rock salt. Once the pork has browned, add the paprika & chorizo. Cook for a couple of minutes and return the vegetables to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and water; mix well & bring to a boil. Put in the raisins & bay leaf; cover the pan. Lower the heat & simmer 10 – 15 minutes. Check for seasoning. Serve with rice; if desired, you may choose to serve fried saba bananas (plantains) and fried eggs for arroz ala Cubana.

Serves 6.